The Books of Summer

July 2017

Books Bought:

  • Jack of Shadows – Roger Zelazny
  • The Game of Life and How to Play It – Florence Scovel Shinn
  • Your Word is Your Wand – Florence Scovel Shinn
  • The Secret Door to Success – Florence Scovel Shinn
  • The Power of the Spoken Word – Florence Scovel Shinn
  • Arguably – Christopher Hitchens
  • American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt – John Beckman
  • The Beauty of Humanity Movement – Camilla Gibb
  • I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President – Josh Lieb
  • Absolutely on Music – Haruki Murakami w/Seiji Ozawa
  • How to Be Like Walt – Pat Williams w/ Jim Denney

Books Read:

  • Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better – Pena Chödrön
  • Ethics – Baruch Spinoza
  • Lone Wolf and Cub, American TPB Vol 15 – Kazuo Koine & Goseki Kojima
  • Schopenhauer – Michael Tanner
  • Jack of Shadows – Roger Zelazny
  • Democracy in America – Alexis de Tocqueville (unfinished…barely started)
  • Annie Get Your Gun – Book by Herbert & Dorothy Fields, Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
  • Ten Years in the Tub – Nick Hornby (Feb ’04 – Jul ’04)
  • Glengarry Glen Ross – David Mamet

Truth be told, I see this list and I feel it’s misleading. For starters, it really seemed to me that I didn’t read much this month. But that list looks to me like I did. Still, Ten Years and Democracy in America lay unfinished. Schopenhauer and Fail were both small books, and Ethics I read, but didn’t fully understand it. That one may need another read.

And, perhaps I went on a bit of spending spree this month. At least that is what it looks like in the bought section. However, I purchased an ebook containing the four works of Florence Shovel Shinn, who I believe to be a sort of early 20th century mystic, or metaphysics practitioner. She was referenced and credited in Tosha Silver’s book Outrageous Openness, and I decided to give The Game of Life a read, when I can get around to it. The whole shebang was $1.99.

I also have a habit of shopping at the Dollar Tree. This started nearly two years ago, my first time attempting The Artist’s Way program, Julia Cameron’s brainchild on creative reinvigoration. It recommended, as a type of “artist date”, or creative activity to do with, by, & for yourself, that shopping at a dollar store and picking up things that could feed your inner child (or artist) would be beneficial. I like picking through the humble book racks. Over that time, I’ve purchased collected essays of David Foster Wallace; a book on Erasmus; a Vampire Hunter D novella, illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano; and most recently, the following: American Fun, The Beauty of Humanity Movement, and I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil. All for $1! (Each.)

Arguably, Absolutely on Music, and How to be Like Walt, all full price. Though, I do get a discount for being a member at the bookstore.  I’ve been interested in Hitchens for a while, but haven’t read anything of his yet. Similar with Murakami.

Zelazny was also an ebook purchase, on sale at Amazon. I’m always amazed at the circuitous routes my reading habits take, and when I first read something by this author, I had to have barely been a teenager. It was on a trip to Tennessee, and my mom stopped at an outlet store shopping center, somewhere in Georgia I would think. I loved books, there was a used book store, and my mother was both supportive of my reading habit as well as being generally doting.

I spotted A Night in the Lonesome October among the stacks of discounted books. A hardback, the dust cover adorned with who I assumed Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein and his monster, the Wolfman, and a rogue’s gallery of other characters. This particular hardback was illustrated by Gahan Wilson (who I later learned was a frequent contributor to Playboy, his comics being equal parts humorous and frightening). I still have the book, and will read it every two to three years at Halloween.

Neverwhere was my introduction to the work of Neil Gaiman, who quickly became my favorite author. Missing out the on the Sandman comic series until much later (I was given the first two volumes of Annotated Sandman, and quickly delved in a few years ago), I found great joy in Gaiman’s prose style. The second book of his I purchased was Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions. The author provides short explanations of each of the stories, including his comments on Only the End of the World Again: “This story came from a number of things coming together… One of them was the late Roger Zelazny’s book A Night in the Lonesome October, which has tremendous fun with the various stock characters of horror and fantasy…”

In Jack of Shadows, we follow the plight of a powerful entity, whose death, rebirth and subsequent search for vengeance is mostly fun. It was a little slow to get into, but once the resurrected Jack is first imprisoned, it begins to feel like a universe created by Zelazny, where possibility and danger are the usual mise en scène. It also hints of political intrigue, and I believe this to be more social commentary than Lonesome October.

As for the others. First of all, thank God for Pena Chödrön’s book. It isn’t that my reading  selections were unreasonably cumbersome. Though, Tocqueville is a whopping seven hundred pages, and I’m barely past the editor’s preface and author’s introduction. To wit, Spinoza’s book isn’t really large either, but the language carries weight that requires more time and attention. Chödrön just happened to be very readable. And pretty small.

Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better is taken from a commencement speech given in CO, and the ensuing interview that was a result. I’ve studied Buddhism for much of my life, in my exploration of theology and philosophy, particularly Eastern practices. Reading of the resiliency of human spirit, the way we can pick ourselves up after failure, is to Chödrön’s credit. She communicates her message of failing in magnificent ways, and I as a reader felt better about failing, as I have in both my recent and distant past.

Tanner’s rundown on Schopenhauer is also small, but at barely sixty pages it still turned into a three-day read. Mind you, the first two weeks of the month I had some difficulty in sitting down to get into anything, and was frequently distracted, fidgety, or just interested in other occupations. C-SPAN, for one. (Take that at face value, please.)

Again, I have a love affair with philosophical works, and should have gone into more heady practices than working with NASCAR, or fundraising for nonprofits. Not that either of those, or the numerous other jobs I’ve worked, can’t be rewarding or wonderful. But I like thinking about things that don’t have a clear answer.

Tanner didn’t really seem to like Schopenhauer all that much. The author was Lecturer in Philosophy at Cambridge until 1997, and was educated in the Royal Air Force. I’m apt to take him at his word, but I don’t have much of an opinion on the philosopher as a person. His concepts on art are well appreciated, especially by music enthusiasts. I’ll likely delve into more serious research on Schopenhauer in the future.

B.S. Baruch Spinoza. In the reading, I stumbled more than once. I wrote on one page of my journal as I was note taking: “Spinoza is full of shit.” Now, he may or may not be correct in any of his assumptions, but I was having serious difficulty reconciling the flow of his logical arguments. (Love philosophy. Just keep telling myself that I love philosophy.)

I did make some headway with Mr. Spinoza through, and I’ve turned from complete detractor of process to more of a curious doubter. I’m hoping to read through some of his correspondence over the coming months, to try and get a clearer picture of what he was talking about.

The rest was mostly aperitif. Lone Wolf is a comic series that I’ve yet to read in its entirety. I have the collect trade paperbacks, all 28 of them. I’m halfway through. Those unfamiliar with Kazure Okami, I highly recommend it. A wandering ronin traveling with his son; former executioner to the Shogun, and betrayed by the Yagyu clan. Now he seeks his revenge, while working an assassin in feudal Japan.

kozure-okami-21x28

Mamet’s Glengarry is intensely fun, and the book came in the audio form, from a production done at L.A. Theatre Works. It included such voice talents as Richard Dreyfuss, Richard Schiff, and Joe Mantegna.

Additionally, I sat down to do a read through of Annie Get Your Gun, because I’ll be performing in the show in September. It’ll be my first time on stage in nearly a year, so I’m looking forward to it. This is a musical based on the early romantic endeavors of famous gunslinger Annie Oakley and her to-be husband Frank Butler. I did some early research, to discover that after Oakley died, Butler stopped eating, and joined his wife eighteen days later. How about that?

Expecting a less impressive month for the next post. I’ll be working out of town a lot, and may not have time to read all that I want to. A shame, too, because I’m sure to rack up late fees at the library.

 

 

 

 

When debating is all we can hope for

The Senate voted this week to begin debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The vote ran 51-50, with Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voting against, giving Vice President Mike Pence the tie-breaking vote. Later that same day, the Senate voted against comprehensive repeal of the Act in a 43-57 vote.

There was major discussion of partisan politics, including John McCain here, decrying partisan fighting after having to return to vote following his brain cancer diagnosis and biopsy.

“I don’t think any of us feels very proud of our incapacity. Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work.”

Wednesday saw another rejection of repeal, and discussions moved to a more modest “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, even though House Republicans warn that such policy will be “dead on arrival”. Even still, this tactic fell upon unsympathetic GOP Senators, and all attempts made this week were squelched.

The problem isn’t with a bill, or a desire to repeal. It’s an inability to communicate with one another. Americans are used to policies falling short at both local and national levels. But Americans deserve to know that our politicians are at least trying to talk to each other about how to make a better nation, and a better world.

As we watch the political drama unfold, week in, week out, it is apparent that the current environment is untenable. Something is going to give, and likely give soon.

 

Art is calling

There’s a piece I’m familiar with, a song called Art Is Calling for Me, lyrics by Harry B. Smith, music by Victor Herbert. It’s a fun sort of song, for a soprano (maybe a mezzo). Every once in a while that music will pop into my head. I first heard it in a concert, sung by a young woman who would enter and, after several years, leave my life. I think of it tonight.

I’ve grown fond of the yoga studio where I practice, as well as the people there. Once a month they do an open house, with live entertainment, food & drink, and, yes, artwork. It reminds me of setting up exhibitions for Orange County, back in a previous occupation.

In my seclusion, or self-imposed monastic existence (as I’ve taken to calling it), I’ve forgotten how much was a part of my life, and just how much I enjoy it.

Picasso was probably my favorite, and I did have a chance to see original sketches when curating the exhibitions. While in Amsterdam, I visited the Van Gogh museum. This is one of his that I really enjoyed.

Mostly now I read and write. I go to the movies maybe once a week, or every other week. But, slowly, I’m reentering the world of the arts. Visiting museums. Seeing shows. Listening to music that for a long time was painful to hear. Singing music that I hadn’t practiced in a long time. I guess art is calling…

Untethered

A gifted and persuasive arts advocate I know once told me of advice he received from his mentor. It had to do with focus.

This arts advocate was doing so much – a musician, a fundraiser, a public speaker. He worked with and for numerous organizations. His mentor gave him this advice:

“You can either be a grenade or a rocket. Imagining that the grenade could explode with the same force that the rocket ignites with, the scattering effect of the grenade will reduce the force of the explosion. You want to be the rocket, taking all the force in the direction you want it to go.”

Same energy, but one goes in all directions, and the other is a straight shot. One singular course. A focused ignition.

rocket-launchI think about this in relation to various decisions we have to make; crossroads that arise in life. Sometimes, when we think we’re on a singular course, we remain tethered to the crossroad, able to go back should failure occur.

But we can’t utilize the momentum if we’re tied down to where we started. It’s only when the tether is released that we can use the force of the rocket.

Sometimes, the untethering can look to observers like irrational behavior.

Steven Pressfield, in Do The Work!, states, “The three dumbest guys I can think of: Charles Lindbergh, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill. Why? Because any smart person who understood how impossibly arduous were the tasks they had set themselves would have pulled the plug before he even began.”

Pressfield advocates staying stupid. Don’t let rationality get in the way of your creativity. I don’t necessarily agree with his word choice, but the sentiment resonates with me. Stupidity could be described as irrationality. I can think of several times that I’ve acted irrationally, and I know it was when I moved beyond any safety net I had in place. That’s when failures can happen. Often, they do happen.

But it’s also when the most staggering achievements can be reached. That’s why the following  questions are so important:

  • What would you do if money wasn’t an issue?
  • What would you do if time wasn’t an issue?

You want to learn to play the piano? Or code a computer? Or write your novel? Get back into shape? Eat better, or learn to cook?

“Do you know how old I’ll be when I get done,” you may ask?

Julia Cameron responds to that question in The Artist’s Way: “The same age you’ll be if you don’t.”

When we lose sight of the crossroads, we turn our gaze to the road ahead, and move unwaveringly towards our destination.

crossroads.jpg

Contentious is the brand

Another week, and another political topic I’ve tasked myself with coming up with. Several ideas sped past my desk over the past few days (incarceration levels, oil pipeline, greenhouse emissions), but I want to do more extensive research on each of these.

It’s difficult to produce content that remains somewhat level-headed, when the right rails against the left, the left against the right; vegetarians against meat-eaters, vegans against both; organic vs. Monsanto; etc., etc., ad nauseum.

When did having an opinion make a person …?

In this book I’ve picked up to start reading, Tibet, the format is contrasting essays by people advocating both sides of the contentious issue as to whether Tibet should have autonomy, or should the People’s Republic of China maintain control.

This book, one in a series titled “Opposing Viewpoints”, has this to say about considering opposing viewpoints:

“In our media-intensive culture it is not difficult to find differing opinions. Thousands of newspapers and magazines and dozens of radio and television talk shows resound with differing points of view. The difficulty lies in deciding which opinion to agree with and which ‘experts’ seem the most credible. The more inundated we become with differing opinions and claims, the more essential it is to hone critical reading and thinking skills to evaluate these ideas.”

So where is the civil in civic discourse? This is a question I’ve been pondering for some time. The greatest minds in American history at least opened up to listen to the opposing side. They may have remained unpersuaded following their interactions, but at least they listened.

“The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this.”

-John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

At the end of the day

“…you’re another day older.”

I love Les Mis. Have since I first got the symphonic recording back in 2009. Obviously I was late to the party on that particular musical.

But what I’m thinking about is aspirations. At the end of the day, we only have what we want to be tomorrow. Who we want to be. That thing that we’re aspiring to.

Sure, we may replay the day in our head, or the past events that have been nagging us for however long. And trust me when I say this, I am a keen accountant of nagging thoughts. It’s one of the primary reasons I decided to keep a blog in the first place. To muse a bit, as it were.

So as I lay here, at the end of the day, I’m working through the things that I want to see happen. I’m stretching my legs out, because my hips are a little sore from yoga this morning.

At the end of a yoga practice, the practitioner lays in savasana, or corpse pose. Death of the ego. The Buddhists would call this the principle of “no-self,” or the release of attachments. You’re allowing the ego to pass away, letting go, and coming back into the world a new creation.

All this dances through mind as I think, “What will tomorrow bring?”

So ask yourself:

What are your aspirations for the coming day?

My other things: theatre

Last week, I wrote about why I write. But there are a number of things that interest me, which is likely why I read so much. As I work on building my WordPress site into something that fully represents me, I wanted to lay out a few things that represent me.

For instance, I’ve been involved in theatre for over ten years now. I have two very clear memories from when I was a child, though I don’t remember exactly when these were. One was a show I was in.

I guess I was always in choirs, because I still sing today. Usually one or two days of practice every week, as well as singing on Sunday.

Anyway, in grade school (maybe first or second grade), I was in a production. I don’t know what it was, or what it was about. I just remember I had to be on stage shirtless. My little butterball self. I was some sort of aboriginal, or Pacific Islander. I wore a lei. (I’m very white, by the way. Perhaps at the time I had a tan.)

There were three of us, shirtless children on stage. The fact that I remember it even now should be some kind of indicator. As if that wouldn’t be scarring enough to a young psyche.

Then there’s the first show I remember seeing. It was when my dad was courting my stepmother, and we all went to see Grease, live on stage at a community theatre. Well, I walked out of that building saying, “What a waste of time. I would never sit through something live on stage again.”

It’s been over a hundred productions later of my own, as well as countless shows I’ve seen or sat in on for their rehearsals. I guess I can safely say: “Boy, was I wrong.”

IMG_2832It’s a joy for me. I love theatre, performing, seeing it, working on it. For over ten years now I’ve been goofing around, on stage. It’s really a wonderful thing.